5.30.2014

Israel Trip Recap: Day Eleven


It is with a heavy heart and much sadness that I begin this final recap of our last day in Israel.  Because you see... I still vividly remember waking up on that eleventh morning and realizing our trip would soon be over.  And that's immediately how my heart felt... heavy and sad.  I wasn't ready to leave, y'all.  The thought of saying goodbye to Ami and Geora was making me cry.  And the thought of flying away and watching Israel slowly fade away in the distance was breaking my heart.  I had to push the sad goodbyes to the back of my mind, because we had ONE MORE DAY!!!

But I'll tell ya' something that wasn't making me cry... the idea of leisurely walking the streets of Jerusalem, more Israeli food and an obscene amount of shopping!  Ha!  And that's exactly what was on the agenda for the day!  Even though Mr. Atchley and I had slept in later than usual, we were still up early enough to enjoy a big, delicious Israeli breakfast!  And don't bother asking me, because I'll never tell how many flaky rugelachs (chocolate croissants) I inhaled that morning.  But I'll admit to savoring every single sip of coffee they served me.  Have I mentioned the fact that Israel has the best coffee in the world?!?! It's true!!!  I think it's because "holy water" must flow straight outta the tap in Jerusalem! Ha!

Before we left the hotel, we stopped back by Creations to pick up the jewelry I had ordered!  John, the owner's son, had it all ready for me! I was so excited to finally get a necklace with my name spelled out in Hebrew!  Isn't it beautiful?


After getting directions from the concierge at the hotel, we started our walk and made our way towards the popular Ben Yehuda Street, known for its pedestrian-style mall and sidewalk cafes.  I mean, who cares that this particular street has a reputation in Israel for being a prime target for terrorist bombings???  That wasn't gonna stop this girl from spending her last remaining shekels!  No way Jose'!  I was ready to shop, y'all! 

(And honestly, if God truly felt it was my time to die, people... I at least wanted to go with a smile on my face in the heart of Jerusalem with shopping bags in my hands!!!)  *wink*

Now thankfully, Ben Yehuda Street is closed to automobile traffic... so we wouldn't have to dodge all the crazy drivers trying to cram their cars onto its tiny and narrow streets!  Once we turned the corner and found it... I immediately fell in love with the area!  There were street musicians, lots of Mama's pushing their babies in strollers, quaint little souvenir shops and more bakeries than you could shake a stick at!  The sweet aroma of freshly baked doughnuts, bagels and pastries filled the air!  Oh yeah, this was my kinda hang-out spot!


Mr. Atchley quickly informed me that he was on a mission to stock up on IDF t-shirts, stickers, hats... anything that had to do with the Israeli military... he needed to buy it!  So, he browsed a few Israeli Army-Navy surplus stores while I window shopped and people-watched.  It was such a pretty day to take a stroll and see the area.  And by the way, I haven't mentioned this yet... but when folks shop in Israel (especially tourists), the shop owners expect for you to try and "haggle" with them on pricing and get the best bargain you think you can get.  Israel is a modern nation, but it is the Middle East after all.  Now my hubby and I had heard stories and read that if you haggle politely and respectfully, you hardly ever have to pay full price for anything!  Well, this is where y'all are gonna get SO tickled at us... shhhh... don't tell anybody... but Mr. Atchley and I just adored all those sweet and precious shop owners so much... that we happily paid full price for almost everything we purchased!  Bahaha!  And you should have seen their faces... they just kept waiting for us to try and suggest a cheaper price... but we were just so eager to bless them and give them what they were asking! Luckily, we never encountered any barracudas looking to rip us off!  Ha!

After we had walked for awhile and worked up an appetite... Mr. Atchley's eagle-eyes spotted one of the most important loves of his life... pizza!  He was hungry and wanted to see what pizza in Israel tasted like, so we sat down and shared a slice!  Now he had unknowingly picked a kosher pizzeria... so no mixing meat and cheese!  But we were happy to enjoy a slice of cheese pizza, and it tasted delicious.  And hey, even this stray cat was eyeballing our treat, hoping for some leftovers. (That cat obviously didn't realize that to my husband, pizza and leftovers do not belong in the same sentence!)

Big Apple Pizza in Jerusalem!  Delish!
That cat better keep on walkin' if it values its life! Ha!

Here are a few other photo's I snapped while we walked around and soaked in the beautiful surroundings:



FYI... I would totally live here!

Such a relaxing street to take an afternoon stroll!

At one point, we passed a small market and I was curious to go inside and see what it was like!  So we went in to browse and walk the aisles.  I saw some familiar and some not-so-familiar items!  Take a look:

They sell milk in BAGS, y'all!!! 
The aroma from the coffee section was intoxicating!
And yes, Israel sells some of my favorite brands of cereal...
so I could totally live and survive there!

I also spied this really hot and buff guy in the store, and even spent some time flirting with him.  I don't think he was Jewish, but I found out he was already married...

*swoon*

After looking at all the food for sale on the grocery store shelves, we were ready to eat again!  Ha!

We found a popular corner cafe and went inside to see what was being served!  And of course, they had all the usual amazing stuff!



Carbs, glorious carbs!!!
Come to Mama!

I finally decided on a toasted bagel with cream cheese and Mr. Atchley ordered each of us a coffee with milk (we call them lattes in America) and an assortment of pastries/cookies.  When they brought out our food... my eyeballs almost popped out of my head!  Just feast your eyes, y'all:


Now this place served the world's best bagel.  I don't know how they make them in Jerusalem, but it tasted unlike any other bagel I've ever eaten in my life!  Mercy, it was delicious and loaded with cream cheese! (sorry, no pic because it didn't last that long)

So, right after I won the prize for inhaling an entire bagel in under 20 seconds, we looked at our watches and realized we better make our way back to the hotel and start packing our suitcases and getting everything ready to load on the bus.  We needed to drop off all of our belongings in the lobby before we headed down to our farewell banquet, so that we could immediately leave for the airport once dinner was over. 

After we carefully packed up all our stuff, we checked out of the room and then delivered our bags to the staff in the lobby.  Once again, we were trusting the bellhop's to get all of our suitcases loaded up on Geora's bus while we dined at what Mr. Atchley and I jokingly referred to as the "last supper".

And wow, can I just say... the restaurant staff outdid themselves that night!  They had a private banquet room for us and had decorated the tables up so pretty and had a fabulous menu planned for our "last supper" in Israel!  Y'all, everything was perfect and delicious.  And I'll admit... my appetite really wasn't the best because it was really starting to hit me that we were indeed leaving... but I still managed to take a few bites here and there because everything was so delicious and prepared for us so lovingly!

Our beautiful table at the farewell dinner!
What an amazing menu!
(and hello... hot chocolate cake!)
As I looked around our table that night... I saw the faces of folks that I fiercely love and admire with my whole heart; some I had only known eleven days... others, more than ten years.  Seated to my right was my sweet and crazy Amy and her awesome boys, Cody and Lucas... we shared so many inside jokes, secrets and laughs with them on this trip!

We love you, Lukey and Cody!
So proud of these young men!

And sitting across from me were Pastor John and Miss Linda... and my heart just ached for them because I knew this was their last group trip to Israel.  I couldn't even begin to imagine what emotions they must be feeling. After 27 trips to this beautiful land and sharing their heart and love for Israel... it was officially coming to an end for them.

My sweet husband was sitting to the left of me... oh, how blessed I am to call him mine.  I'll never be able to thank him enough for providing this trip and for bringing me to Israel.  He made a dream of mine a reality... and I love him dearly for it!  Now seated next to Mr. Atchley was Ami, our rock star tour guide and then Geora, our new best friend.  Y'all,  it took me exactly one full day in Israel before I fell in love with both of these men.  So many times throughout our trip, I would catch myself just staring at them in awe when they spoke Hebrew to each other, and they utterly mesmerized me.  (I could listen to them talk for days; Hebrew is such a gorgeous language!)  Ami and Geora are truly amazing men who have the biggest hearts to serve people, offer kindness and teach others about their beloved homeland... and I couldn't believe I would soon be hugging them goodbye.

Our beloved guide and friend, Amatzia.

All of those amazing people around the table where Mr. Atchley and I sat... they became our family on this trip.  Because truly, you cannot spend eleven whole days traipsing all over the nation of Israel with folks and not end up absolutely loving them to pieces by the end of the journey!  Our experiences and memories in Israel will bind us together forever!

Once the staff cleared our dinner plates, we continued the fun by celebrating Cody's 18th birthday!  The restaurant staff brought out cake and sang happy birthday just for him!

Cody!  Turning 18 in Israel!  No better place to celebrate!

And luckily, he sat pretty close to me, so I got unlimited bites of his delicious slice of cake! *wink*  

Finally, Pastor John got up and spoke to the group for a bit, gave us our final travel instructions... and then spent a few special moments showering Ami and Geora with hugs and tons of praise for the true rock star's that they are. By the end, I'm fairly certain everyone in the room was in full blown "ugly cry" mode.

Geora, Pastor John and Ami

And then... for the last time, we loaded up on the bus... found our seats... and commenced with the quietest ride ever back to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.  Ami kept turning around in his seat, looking at us and whispering "Don't be sad... you must all come back."  And many of us promised him, we would most definitely return!  Because one trip to Israel in a lifetime is not enough!  Lord willing... we WILL go back... someday!!!  

I know I've told you about the very best parts of our trip... but this bus ride was definitely the worst part of our trip to Israel!!!  I may have even secretly prayed that the bus would break down or something so that we could stay just a few hours longer.  But, it didn't happen.  The ride felt entirely too short, because before we knew it... Geora was pulling up to the airport.

I tightly hugged Geora goodbye as I got off the bus, and caught Ami's eye as he was standing on the curb helping folks get their bags.  I couldn't help but cry as I hugged Ami goodbye, and I told him that if he ever found himself in East Texas... that he was welcome to come stay at our house because now... he was family to us!  Through watery eyes, he grinned big, winked at me and then said with his thick Hebrew accent, "Yes, but I bring 20 Jewish cousins with me!"  And then we both laughed as I assured him we would happily make room for all of them at our house!

Once inside the airport, we had to go through some of the tightest security in the world.  The Israeli's do not fool around y'all.  They are polite, efficient and organized... but nothing gets by them, you can be sure of that.  They screened us, our luggage, asked us very detailed questions about our trip... and yes, we even observed quite a bit of racial profiling.  And whether you agree or disagree with their methods, their security is effective and thorough and hands down... the best in the world.  The United States could learn a lesson or two on how it should really be done.  I've never been more impressed with airport security in my life than I was at Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv.   

We eventually made it on the plane, found our seats and settled in for the long flight back to the USA.  On this flight, there was no singing or dancing... just pure sadness and exhaustion that filled our bodies and minds.  And gradually, as the airplane climbed higher and higher into the clouds... I watched Israel become a tiny little speck out my window.

  
Now most of you won't understand what I'm about to say next... but almost six months later since returning to Texas... I still dream about Israel almost every night while I sleep.  In one way or another, I see the faces of the people we met or remember the places we visited, and I can hear their voices vividly and smell the air... in my sleep, I'm back in Jerusalem. 

And each time I wake up and realize I was only dreaming... I feel so homesick that it physically hurts my heart.  Yes, that's right. I am homesick for Israel.  Only God knows why I feel the way I do, but He also knows I'm trusting in Him that someday, somehow... I'll once again lay my eyes on that beautiful city known as Zion.



4.17.2014

Israel Trip Recap: Day Ten


I've been eagerly anticipating writing this post, y'all!  Why? Because I finally get to share with you the single most favorite moment from our trip to Israel! And it happened on the very last day of touring! And after you read this recap, you'll see why Ami and Pastor John saved the absolute best place for last!

Day ten began with Pastor John approaching us during breakfast and inviting us to join him and Miss Linda for dinner that evening. He had invited a local Pastor friend in Jerusalem and his wife out to the hotel for dinner, and he wanted to introduce us to them.  After teasing him and telling him how unsure I was about eating a meal with him, we finally accepted his invitation!  Ha!  Pastor David and Kathy (from Colorado) were sitting with us at breakfast and Pastor invited them to dinner as well. 

So, after devouring and rushing through breakfast... we couldn't wait to get on the bus to start our day of touring!  Even though it was our last full day tour in Israel, we knew where we were headed and the excitement was building!  Yes, we were headed to the Garden Tomb!  Our day would begin with a tour of the garden, including Golgotha, (known as Calvary, or the place of the skull) and also with a group communion service.  Afterwards, we would tour the town of John the Baptist and the house of Caiaphas.

Once we were all seated on the bus and making our way across town, Pastor John taught us his version of an old song, based on Psalm 147:2...

The Lord is building Jerusalem
The Lord is building Jerusalem
Gathering together the outcasts of Israel
Binding up their wounds, setting captives free...
The Lord is building, the Lord is building
Jer-u-sa-lem!!!
Hey! 

And before we realized it, we had arrived at our destination! Now, even though the Garden Tomb is located right next to a very busy bus terminal, it's an extremely quiet and peaceful spot just outside the city walls near the Damascus Gate. It is maintained beautifully and feels quite secluded. A Christian, non-denominational charitable trust based out of the United Kingdom maintains the property and hosts the garden tours. We were quickly introduced to our gentleman-ly guide, who had the loveliest and most proper British accent! 

First, we were led to the area known as Golgotha.  This area sits near the busy main road that leads to Jericho and is also known historically as an execution site during the time of Christ.  And yes, you can still actually see the skull in the hill.  Look closely, but it's not hard to find...





Here's another shot... a photo of a photo of "skull hill"...


In Aramaic, it translates as "place of the skull".


Okay... try again... now can you see it?


Golgotha. (read Matthew 27:33)


Since discovered in 1842, this is the place many believe to be the site where Jesus was crucified.  This is my personal belief as well.

Next, the body of Jesus would have been carried the length of the garden where it was then placed in a new, rich man's tomb.  (begin reading Matthew chapter 27, starting at verse 57)

Now 2,000 years ago, this same garden housed an active wine press and cistern. (That's why in John 19:41, it is referred to as a garden.) And right here... this is the place... the tomb where many believe (including myself) that the body of Jesus was placed and then later resurrected from the dead.  



Again, if you are looking for absolute 100% proof... you won't find it. But as our garden guide said, "Where Jesus died and rose again isn't what's truly important.  Why He did it... well that's what really counts!"  Amen and amen!  And y'all... my spirit was undoubtedly doing flip-flops and felt SO flooded with peace, joy and love when I saw that beautiful tomb!  If this wasn't the actual place where it all happened... you were gonna have a really hard time convincing me otherwise! *wink*



Now y'all, as I stood in line to enter the tomb... my stomach suddenly had butterflies!  I was so excited but also a tiny bit anxious... I didn't know what I was about to see or how I would even react once I climbed inside.  Then, right before it was my turn to enter... I had this strange urging in my spirit that I should cover my head with my scarf.  I knew it wasn't mandatory or necessary... but I felt a prompting to do it.  And so I did... and right as I stepped inside, Mr. Atchley quietly called to me to snap a photo...




And once I climbed inside the tomb... I started to sob deeply.  The overwhelming feeling like I was actually standing on holy ground... His presence and peace were so real in that moment.  To finally see with my very own eyes a cold slab of stone... where the body of my precious King was once laid to rest... my sin had placed Him there... only now to look upon the spot and see... it was empty.  Just as I've been told my whole life and just as I knew I would find it!  EMPTY!!!  


The "Jesus experience" of a lifetime...


This Jew named Jesus... Yeshua, the Son of God... Jesus, my Savior and the one true Messiah... He was no longer there... because on the third day, He came alive, rose up from the dead and left that tomb forever and ever.  

The only words I could manage to whisper from my mouth, over and over again through my streaming tears were "thank you Jesus, oh thank you... thank you".  The enormity of His sacrifice... His shed blood that saved my life and the exhilarating reality of His resurrection were just too much for my feeble mouth to utter anything else other than words of thankfulness. He did that for me... He died for ME... and then He defeated death, hell and the grave... all for me(And for you, and for all those who believe in Him!)  
HE IS RISEN!!!

What more was there to say, y'all?  After spending a few extra minutes looking around inside, I turned around and walked out of that dark tomb.  And Jesus?  Well, He left that tomb with me! Because the grave couldn't hold Him and because... HE LIVES!!! Yes indeed... He lives within my heart and goes everywhere with me! <3


That's MY King!!!


Now lo and behold... what did I see once I exited the tomb?  Well it was some of our friends from Nigeria!!!  Woohoo!  And let me tell you somethin' y'all, those folks know how to worship and throw a big ole Jesus party!  They began to loudly sing songs to the Lord and shout and dance and clap... and I soaked in every little drop of their praise!  Y'all, to actually stand IN the empty Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, and have the unbelievable opportunity to raise my hands in worship and sing praises to my King... well darlin's, it changed my DNA!!!  I knew right then, more than EVER before, that I had been brought to Israel for such a time as this!!!





After I did my fair share of worshipping and shoutin' all my makeup off... whew, I was ready to find the rest of the group for some quiet and time of reflection!

Pastor John led our group over to a covered pavilion area in the garden and we used the opportunity to worship, take communion together and celebrate the NEW covenant! Amen! And bless Ami's heart, he had purchased a big bag full of olive wood communion cups at Gianni's the day before... and after we finished taking communion using those beautiful cups, he told us to keep them as gifts! (Do y'all see why we loved Ami to pieces?  He was so sweet and thoughtful to think of purchasing such special & meaningful souvenirs for us!) 

We ended our time at the Garden Tomb in their lovely gift shop, where Mr. A and I purchased several gifts for our friends, family and neighbors back in Texas.

Next up, we took a rather long bus ride to the town of John the Baptist. (Ein Karem)  The ride was rather curvy and bumpy and I didn't know about this ahead of time, so I was in desperate need of dramamine.  And whoops, I didn't have any left!  Once we arrived at the village and everyone unloaded... Mr. Atchley carefully helped me and my wobbly legs off the bus.  Luckily, one of the sweet gals in our group had extra dramamine in her purse, and I quickly swallowed several of them. (I can't even remember how many pills I took; I was just desperate to feel better!) As the group headed off to explore and see the village, I knew my legs were not going to keep me moving.  Pastor John was so sweet and concerned; he has a daughter that struggles with motion sickness as well, so he understood how I felt and offered for me to join him and Miss Linda at a local cafe to rest and have something to drink.

Pastor John found a lovely little table outside of a cafe in the shade for us to sit at, but unfortunately I spent the majority of time inside the cafe in the restroom... ya' know, emptying my stomach of the delicious Israeli breakfast I had eaten earlier in the day.  Finally, when there was nothing left to get rid of... I applied wet paper towels to my face and begged a plastic bag off one of the waitresses to stash inside my purse.  I had been teasing Pastor John throughout our whole trip and telling him I may finally get a chance to throw up on him while we were in Israel, but I didn't actually want to do it!  He would never let me live it down, y'all! *wink*  Luckily, we made it out of there without any issues!

(But unfortunately, we don't have any photos of the village, because Mr. Atchley and our camera opted to stay with me rather than join the group.)

Now after we left Ein Karem, Ami had made arrangements for us to eat lunch at this lovely restaurant in Jerusalem called "Olive & Fish".  Our meal was amazing!  I managed to eat a few bites of pita even though my stomach was still doing somersaults.  They served us a chicken dish that apparently was so delicious, that folks at our table even asked the chef for the recipe!  And, he was happy to oblige and wrote it down for the group!  As we were leaving the restaurant, I saw a truck off in the distance with a picture of Elvis on it, and I knew I had to snap a photo!  Ha!






I spotted Elvis in Jerusalem, y'all!
LOL



Next, we headed over to the house of Caiaphas, also known as St. Peter in Gallicantu.  Halfway through the tour, my stomach started to act crazy again, so I excused myself to go and sit near the bathrooms.  But Mr. Atchley took plenty of photos in my absence!


This is thought to be the location where Peter denied the Lord.


Read Psalm 88...


A sculpture of Jesus; many believe he waited in the bottom of this pit 
to stand trial before Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin and ultimately, Pilate.


The hole in the stone which leads to the pit (or dungeon) below.


Pastor John (in the purple shirt), reading Psalm 88 from the bottom of the pit.



Once the group left the church and came back outside, Mr. A snapped this photo of me waiting at the top of the hill for everyone.


Who cares that I was sick???  I WAS IN JERUSALEM!!!  Ha!



And by the way, look at these beautiful views of the city!  





While we were standing outside visiting and enjoying our last moments of the tour, I heard the whizz of a rock go flying right past my ear.  And then another, and another.  I turned around to see Mr. Atchley and Amy's boys running over to the railing and looking down only to find some young boys who were throwing rocks at our group and trying to hit us! (Now it's just MY observation, but I don't think those were little Jewish fellas.  But in all fairness, it's not like they told us otherwise and we didn't take the time to ask.)  Either way, they had some nerve to do such a thing to a group of innocent tourists standing near a church!




Mr. Atchley quickly pulled out his camera to take photos of the boys, thinking it would scare them enough to make them stop, but it didn't work!  If anything, they threw those rocks even harder!  So, my husband did what any good Texan man would do... he made a universal "gesture" with his hand (not the crude one y'all are thinking of, I promise)... and when they saw it, they actually stopped throwing rocks at us. Ha!  Goodness gracious, y'all.  I'm not sure I approved of his "cowboy" method, but at least no one from our group got hit.

Our sweet Geora finally drove us back to the hotel, where I managed to squeeze in a quick little nap back in our room before dinner.  We then made it down to the restaurant for dinner just in time to find Pastor John's table.  He introduced Mr. Atchley and I to the senior pastors of King of Kings Community Church in Jerusalem, Wayne and Ann Hilsden.  They have the largest Christian/Messianic congregation in all of Jerusalem.  And it was a pleasure meeting and talking with them, hearing stories about their ministry and awesome prayer tower in Jerusalem... and of course laughing at all of Pastor John's crazy old tales! (I may or may not have been slightly over-medicated throughout dinner so the details are kinda fuzzy.)

We ended the day happy but totally and completely exhausted and ready for bed... but also incredibly sad that our trip to Israel was just about to end.  We had only one more day in Israel... and it was a free day to go see and do whatever we liked... but first, we desperately needed sleep.

Up next:  Come back to read about our final day in Jerusalem.  We slept in!  We ate!  We shopped!  We ate and shopped some more! We also discovered the world's best bagel!  And then, we wrapped up our precious time in Israel with a memorable farewell banquet. And finally, we ended the last couple hours of our day with the quietest ride of our lives back to the airport in Tel Aviv, followed by crying buckets and buckets of tears... but many promises to return!


"Next year in Jerusalem!"


(Let it be, Lord!  Oh... let it be!!!)


4.14.2014

Israel Trip Recap: Day Nine


This was our ninth day in Israel, y'all.  Goodness.  How was it that at certain moments of our trip, it felt like time was standing still and yet other moments, it felt like the time was flying by faster than it should?!?!  I'll never understand... I guess it's one of those marvelous mysteries that only God can explain. 

So, yet again... breakfast in Israel is the bomb.dot.com!!!  On this beautiful morning, I once again filled up on eggs, cheese, granola, yummy Israeli coffee and of course... my beloved rugelach. (aka...the chocolate croissant!)  May God bless the folks that baked those delicious treats fresh every morning just for me.  Oh wait, I was supposed to share those?!?!?  #oops


Another delicious Israeli breakfast!  

Well, this day began even more spectacular than most, because after breakfast, we went to see the hotel Jeweler.  That's right. HELLO!!!  I was suddenly wide awake, folks!  Hehe.  Creations Jewelry has been located inside this hotel for over 30 years, and Pastor John told James (the owner) that he was telling all of our tour group to shop until we dropped in his store.  Y'all know, I couldn't let Pastor John down... no sirree!  I'm always obedient to the advice of my Pastor! *wink*  So, under the annoying watchful eye of my husband... I placed an order for 5 custom necklaces and bought a few other pieces that I needed.  In this case, the whole "less is more" philosophy went flying out the window. 

Now y'all try not to don't judge my shopping habits!  Mr. Atchley spent a few shekels in Jerusalem, too... but he made a major purchase on an Israeli-made gun before we left the states... so I promise... I was only shopping to catch up with him! (That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!)  

After we loaded up on the bus, Pastor read Psalm 125 to us.  Here is the portion that really captivated me:

"Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people
both now and forevermore...
Peace be on Israel."      

As we departed the hotel, Ami decided to teach us another word to use to say "good morning" in Hebrew... Boker Orr!  He said it translates as "delightful morning"... and indeed, it was! 

Our very first stop was at the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives.  



Did you know Gethsemane means "Garden of the Oil/Olive Press"? It sure does!  Take a look at these amazing 2,000 year-old olive trees, dating all the way back to the time of Jesus:


They surround the oldest trees with fence to keep folks from
tearing off pieces to take home as souvenirs!


We also spent some time inside the Church of All Nations, viewing and praying at the Rock of Agony.  This is the spot where many believe that Jesus prayed and sweat blood right before his betrayal took place. 



After we left and stepped outside the church, we got our very first glance of the Eastern Gate! (also called the Golden Gate) Scripture says that only the Messiah will enter back through that gate, and it has been sealed up for almost 500 years! A Muslim cemetery is now at the base of the entrance to the Eastern Gate; Muslims sealed this gate in the year 1541 thinking that it will block the Messiah from re-entering.  (read Ezekiel 44 prophecy)  If y'all only knew how many times throughout history of the different armies and terrorists that have tried to open the Eastern Gate... and some have come awfully close to succeeding... only for the Divine Hand of God to intercede and keep it remaining tightly closed.  Now if that won't give ya' goosebumps, I don't know what will! Can I get an amen?!? 


The beautiful and tightly sealed Eastern Gate!

Next, our sweet bus driver Geora drove us to the top of the Mount of Olives for a fantastic panoramic view of the Kidron Valley and Jerusalem.  You can also see the wall and the Dome of the Rock. Now while we were busy trying to get as many photographs as possible, we had to also stay on high alert because this area is known for its fierce pickpockets.  I mean y'all... it was like a 3-ring circus up there!  There were street vendors trying to sell us things like maps and postcards,  several teenage boys stalking our handbags and pockets like vultures,  and at the same time... Ami was also motioning for us all to stay together... he was trying his best to get us all assembled to pose for our group picture.  I was so stressed out because this was a level of crazy I had never experienced before.  And hey... I'M FAIRLY CRAZY as it is!  Still, this was a new level of cray-cray even for me!  But y'all know what? Our big group photo turned out perfectly!  For real, I have no idea how that perfection was achieved, because it was absolute chaos all around us!  


Our tour group!  Can you find Mr. Atchley and I?
Hint: look for the lone photo bomber! 

And seriously... look at that view of the Old City and the Dome of the Rock!  It's amazing that such a small area in Jerusalem is such a huge source of controversy.  But now that I've been there personally... I truly understand it.  Jerusalem, especially that one square mile of the Old City... well, it's special.  If you ever get the chance to go there, you too will understand why.  And you will finally understand why this place known as the Holy Land will always be full of fighting and conflict.  Well... not always. You see, I already know how the story ends.  And it is for that reason, dear friends, that I pray daily for the peace of Jerusalem.  Because in the very end, I know the One who wins the battle.  Hallelujah!




I am actually in Jerusalem!!!!!!! Eeek!!!

After some religious and political discussions, Ami led us to the long and winding path down the Mount of Olives...  and then we found ourselves starting our walk back UP to the Old City.  This local fella even walked alongside us for a bit... yes, he was a pickpocket too, believe it or not!


Straight out of the Bible, y'all.
Well, other than the fact that he's a known pickpocket
and he was wearing Nike's under his tunic!  Ha!

When we finally completed the long walk back UP to the gate to re-enter the Old City, my feet were screamin'.  This tour would end up being the most walking we did in a single day on our entire trip.  And... I just so happened to leave my ugly walking shoes in the hotel room that morning, whoopsie!  (At least I was wearing cute ballet flats for the group photo!)  Right before we entered the Old City through the Lion's Gate, which is the beginning of the walk on the Via Dolorosa (or Way of Suffering) to visit the stations of the cross, Mr. A had to snap this pic of local law enforcement.  They are bad to the bone!


He made me promise to put this on the blog!
Note the metal riot guard on the windshield!  Yikes!

Now I just want to be honest with y'all... a trip to Israel is totally life-changing.  If you allow it to all sink in... you won't go home the same person that you were when you arrived.  A trip to Israel will be as spectacular as you let it be.  There are a lot of places to visit... some are purely historic, some are considered "holy" in nature... and others are just places that claim to be things they really aren't.  It's up to each individual to discern in their spirit what feels authentic and what doesn't.  And each person may have a different feeling or conclusion that they will walk away with.  So with that being said, the rest of our sight-seeing on this particular day I will lovingly refer to as "old church overload".  And I mean absolutely no disrespect... but that's exactly what it was.  A day full of visiting Roman Catholic churches and many other places where folks believe that certain holy or spiritual moments happened, but there isn't actually proof.  And... in full disclosure, I gotta tell ya'... most of those places, I felt absolutely nothin' stir up and move in my spirit. Zilch, zip, nada.  And not to get ahead of myself, but at the end of the day, one specific church in particular claims some BIG DEAL HOLY & RELIGIOUS stuff y'all... well, it just turned me off in the worst possible way.  And trust me, I wasn't the only one in our group that was sensing it was more about the religious importance and less about the spiritual aspects.  So, all I could do was trust that the Holy Spirit was leading me and helping me to discern what I was seeing and feeling. But hey, to each his own.  There may have been others there that thoroughly enjoyed it.  I just wasn't one of them.

But, I never lost sight of the fact that I WAS IN ISRAEL!!!  Walking on the same streets and visiting the same places where my Savior King walked!  So, when Ami took us to the Muslim Quarter to view the Pool of Bethesda (read John chapter 5) and retold the story of the lame man that was healed by Jesus... I may have had a dance party right inside my heart!  And apparently... as evidenced by the photo below... I was the only one!  Bahaha!  It appears I was paying absolutely no attention to the actual pool that everyone else was focused on because I was busy smiling up at God and raising my hand and showing Him... 


I'm the one in the blue shirt... hehe.

"I'm here, God... in Jerusalem... your beautiful city!!!  I know you see me!  Helloooooooo!!!!!!"  I know... I'm quirky!     

Now unfortunately, my unique and special moment was ruined by the very loud and annoying Muslim call to prayer from the nearby mosque.  And look, I might as well confess... I actually covered my ears because I didn't want to hear it.  The call to prayer (which is announced five times per day) made me angry and it sounds totally creepy and... well, I'll just leave it at that.

(Don't bother leaving me any nasty comments regarding my thoughts on this matter.  I stand firm in my opinion.)

And here's a photo of the pools, if that sorta thing interests ya':




So, next up... we stopped for lunch at the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. After a short tour through the building, we were led out to an open rooftop courtyard... and much to our surprise, there were fantastic views of the city!  






They even had little container gardens growing on their roof!
Gorgeous succulents!

They began serving us lunch as we made our way indoors, and we were tickled to death when our beloved tour guide, sweet Ami, asked if he could eat lunch with us at our table. (Amy, the boys, Mr. Atchley and I)  Throughout lunch, we had the best time getting to know more about his personal life, his family and hobbies... and where HE likes to go on vacation!  (Btw... it's Italy!  Who knew?!?!) It was an all-around awesome, laughter-filled, enjoyable lunch! Though I believe something must have gotten lost in translation, because I swear he proposed marriage to Amy at one point during lunch?!?!  BAHAHA!

After our delicious and relaxing lunch, we made our way back down to the street so we could visit each station of the cross as we walked along the Via Dolorosa.  It was a pretty interesting walk!


Remember, most signs in Israel are posted in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
Station 4: Jesus with his mother, Mary.

Along our walk, we also saw plenty of these types of signs posted as well:




The last stations of the cross end up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  This is the place where many people believe the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus took place.  I am not one of those people that share in that theory; it is my belief that the area near the Garden Tomb (outside of the Old City) is where those events took place.  I found the church merely to be a place of rituals and religion.  And I was more than happy to respectfully stand out of the way along with a few others in our group and just observe the many different people and cultures represented in the church.




Finally, Pastor John informed our group that he had something up his sleeve to get really excited about!  More shopping, y'all!  And, he also promised an unlimited amount of time in this particular store he was taking us to, so that's where we headed off next.  

(By the way, I think I've neglected to tell you that as we traveled all throughout Israel, not only with Geora and Ami, but also with Pastor John and Miss Linda... well, we were basically treated like celebrities!!! Whenever folks saw our group comin'... they rolled out the red carpet and gave us the VIP treatment!)

After a short walk, we arrived at Gianni's store in the Christian Quarter of the Old City... his staff graciously ushered us inside and hurriedly locked the doors behind us and put up the "Closed" sign. Yes, they were actually closing down the store to outsiders so our group could shop at ease privately and unrushed.  They assured us we were free to put down our bags, use their restrooms and enjoy a peaceful shopping experience!  They even served us cold drinks and yummy snacks!  

Gianni's store was filled to the brim with beautiful olive wood trinkets, nativity scenes, cases of amazing locally-made jewelry... and all sorts of stuff that tourists can't seem to get enough of! Mr. Atchley bought a menorah with Jerusalem stamped on the base, and he also bought me a beautiful sterling silver and opal ring with the "grafted in" symbol on it! (read Romans 11)  And just when I thought I'd died and gone to heaven... he surprised me with a gold "grafted in" charm to wear on my gold chain!  I began to cry tears of joy once again! (As if I needed yet another excuse to cry, ha!)  I will treasure these pieces of jewelry for as long as I live!


My beautiful "grafted in" ring!

Eventually, we all found and purchased what we wanted and left the store.  Back outside, we made the long, winding walk through the Old City, passing back into the Muslim Quarter and then briefly through the Jewish Quarter.  No words, y'all.  The sights, sounds and exotic smells of spices are forever engraved in my memory! Mr. Atchley was able to snap a couple photos:


Walking through the Muslim Quarter.
You can see Ami in the bottom right corner with his hands
cupped to his mouth yelling at us NOT to stop and shop!
And then our walk took us through the Jewish Quarter.
We finally made it back out to a wide open space! So pretty!

A section of the Old City wall, near the Jaffa Gate.

We finally exited the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, which was the gate nearest to our hotel.  As we were loading up on the bus, we saw the motorcade belonging to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, driving by!  It was so cool!  




(And yes, I was the big-haired lunatic with the smeared mascara that was waving frantically and yelling "Heeey, Netanyahu!!!" as they drove past our bus!)  Y'all... Mr. Atchley was totally mortified and may have died right on the spot, ha ha!

But in all seriousness, y'all... how in the world was I ever going to be able to leave this place?  The time was drawing near, and I absolutely hated the thought of saying goodbye to this land and these people I'd grown to love so deeply.


This view...
Burned in my memory... forever!

Up next: We visit the house of Caiaphas (St. Peter in Gallicantu), the town of John the Baptist (Ein Karem)... and not only did we see it... but we were able to experience the Garden Tomb.  

And just in case you're wondering... 

SPOILER ALERT... 

YESthe tomb is EMPTY!!!  Please, come back to read all about our favorite experience during our trip to Israel!!!  With Easter quickly approaching... there's no better time to read about and also see photos of the place where my Jesus conquered death, hell and the grave... forever!

     


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